This Twins reliever was ready to show off his 'pretty swing'

September 3rd, 2022

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As if the Twins’ 3-2 victory in 10 innings over the Giants last Saturday wasn’t chaotic enough -- with a 51-minute rain delay and Minnesota’s three-run comeback in the final two frames capped by a walk-off, bases-loaded walk -- manager Rocco Baldelli mentioned in passing after the game that there was a scenario in which reliever Emilio Pagán might have been summoned to pinch-hit if the game had gone much longer.

Wait, what?

“I’ve got a pretty swing,” Pagán said afterwards. “It doesn't work, but it looks good.”

The exact circumstances are difficult to explain, but the gist of it is that if the Giants had brought in a left-hander to pitch in that 10th inning, the Twins would have pinch-hit with Kyle Garlick, their final bench player. They’d already pinch-run for their designated hitter earlier in the frame and would have needed to move runner Caleb Hamilton to the field, which would have resulted in the Twins forfeiting the DH and inserting a pitcher spot into the lineup.

That’s why Pagán had to jog in from the bullpen, grab Alex Kirilloff’s bat and ask for a batting helmet with his number “12” on the back from the equipment manager -- because if the pitcher spot had come up in later innings, Pagán would have been the guy sent up to pinch-hit for whichever pitcher had been in the game.

That break-glass-in-case-of-emergency pitcher spot comes up far less often these days due to the advent of the universal designated hitter (helping to preserve bench players) and the automatic runner in extra innings (helping to shorten games), which actually makes those situations more special for pitchers, many of them agreed in the following days. It’s an honor to be selected as the most athletic pitcher, of sorts, to hit or run in those situations.

In years past, that was always a role for Kenta Maeda, who loved to hit and made that abundantly known to his coaching staff. But with Maeda on the shelf due to his recovery from Tommy John surgery, Baldelli had to look elsewhere.

“I don't know if we have a Kenta-type of guy right now,” Baldelli said. “That'll insult some other people. They'll be fine. Yeah, Kenta is a pretty straightforward choice when he's active to be able to do those things, as long as he didn't pitch earlier in that game, and he's probably not pitching the next day.”

With Twins bench coach Jayce Tingler having managed Pagán in San Diego last year, and with Pagán having been a two-way player in college at Division II Belmont Abbey, Pagán ended up being the choice in the spur of the moment -- not that one of his teammates was thrilled about it.

Dylan Bundy was mad because he wanted to put a helmet on and go hit and potentially go in the field,” Baldelli said. “But Pagán’s done it before in his life, a whole bunch. That made it easier. We need to pick someone, and there’s no ideal way to do it.”

"Yeah, I was kind of [hurt] about it,” Bundy said, pointing out a reason why he feels like he’s best suited for the gig.

“I'm a switch-hitter!” Bundy said. “Righty, lefty, I'm in there.”

Bundy said he has continued to plead his case with the coaching staff to keep him in mind if a situation like that ever comes up again -- though he acknowledged it’s not likely -- and he said that Pagán got to show off a little bit after the game by wearing his batting helmet around the clubhouse.

It seems that Bundy’s the only one who’s really pushing for the opportunity, though.

“I told them the only thing is that, if they want me to go up there and put up a bunt, I'm their guy,” said Sonny Gray, who has 14 career hits, including a triple, but was ineligible last Saturday because he’d started the game. “But if they want somebody to go up there and try to get a hit, I said they're probably better off going somewhere else in that situation.”

“Not for me,” said Tyler Mahle, who actually has been used as a pinch-hitter and pinch-runner in the past. “Some guys might get off on that, but I couldn't care less. They call me to go out and do my job. It's nothing to brag about, I don't think.”

In any case, this didn’t even end up mattering because the Twins walked it off in the bottom of the 10th -- and though Pagán gets the distinction of, at least theoretically, having been the pitcher the Twins would have turned to in that situation, Gray doesn’t think that’s quite enough for bragging rights.

"Nah,” Gray said. “He didn't hit."